Review

Dogtown: Death and Enchantment in a New England Ghost Town

by Elyssa East

Who doesn’t love a ghost story? Remember telling creepy
tales around the campfire, deep in the woods, shivering with fear
while eerie screeches and spooky sounds emanated out of the shadows
of the night? Those were myths and legends designed to leave
listeners glancing over their shoulders with a growing unease or
cause a sleepless night. But Dogtown, an abandoned colonial
community in Massachusetts’ Cape Ann area, is a real place,
one that many have claimed is haunted. It has a past rich in scary
stories, witches and warlocks, ghost sightings, and general
hair-raising, spine-tingling malaise among its visitors. And it
also has a real-life bogeyman in its sinister history and has now
become a genuine ghost town.

As far back as anyone can remember, Dogtown has lured famous
writers, poets, painters and sculptors --- all drawn there by its
unique countryside and its strange residents. One such
artist’s undertaking was to carve huge boulders heralding
life lessons and tidings such as “Be on time” or simply
“Courage.” The Dogtown people prided themselves on
their oddity; you might even say they reveled in it. At least,
until one man carried his peculiarity too far, descending into
perversion, and killed not only a well-loved local woman but also
Dogtown’s sense of uneasy peace.

The same reasons that drew previous authors to explore Dogtown
drew Elyssa East to the community as well. She felt an urge to see
what had so entranced a man named Marsden Hartley to create a
series of paintings of its distinctive landscape. But what she
discovered was Dogtown’s dark past, one that involved Peter
Hodgkins. Something made Peter different from everyone else; his
tastes leaned toward deviance, a proclivity that might have
triggered alarms had the right people been paying attention. The
townsfolk simply laid it off to Peter’s weirdness, looking
the other way when he repeatedly exposed himself to women,
ultimately turning alarmingly physical. Unfortunately, the legal
rebuke was always too soft, allowing Peter back on the streets with
not much more than a slap on the wrist.

So it was that, one lovely summer morning, schoolteacher Anne
Natti was walking through the woods with her dog. A chance
encounter with Hodgkins sealed her fate, leaving her bruised,
bloody, with a caved-in head, injuries that brought about a slow,
painful death.

As Elyssa East guides us through Ann’s last day and her
killer’s trial, she also guides us through Dogtown’s
colorful history, which includes more than just stories of witches
and demons and pirates lurking in the nearby waters as regular
folks worked to build a life on the inhospitable peninsula. Not all
comers to Dogtown had a negative experience, though. Some were
seduced by a sort of hopeful awe, a compulsion to feel its aura. A
mystery surrounded the twisted trees and shrubs, tempting
imaginations and, fortunately, imaginations gave way to poems,
paintings and books.

DOGTOWN is a beautifully written account of the
community’s magnetism, its repulsion and the inexplicable
pull it possesses. American History buffs and murder mystery lovers
will delight in this alluring book.

Reviewed by Kate Ayers on December 30, 2010

Dogtown: Death and Enchantment in a New England Ghost Town
by Elyssa East

  • Publication Date: October 12, 2010
  • Genres: Nonfiction, True Crime
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press
  • ISBN-10: 1416587055
  • ISBN-13: 9781416587057